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Posts Tagged as "multisensory"

It’s time to dance… MATH dance!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

What an awesome way to remember what some of the essential functions look like!

Beautiful Math Dance Moves

Next time one of my students needs to remember what a function looks like, I’m gonna say, “Let’s DANCE!!”

*Via coeurdewhale at tumblr (I believe this is who created the image, but I’m not sure) and dong6241 at piccsy, a lovely site that showcases user-submitted images and has a great visual image search (blogger’s delight)!

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Posts Tagged as "multisensory"

Is multi-sensory learning hardwired into our humanity?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I was really struck by Oliver Sacks‘s description of a recovering stroke victim in his June 28th New Yorker article, A Man of Letters.

Sacks describes a letter he received from writer Howard Engel in early 2002. One morning, Howard woke up feeling fine. However, the newspaper now appeared to be printed in a foreign language.


After determining that what he was experiencing wasn’t actually a practical joke, Howard realized he had suffered a stroke. The diagnosis was “alexia sine agraphia”: Howard could still write just fine, but he couldn’t read.

The article insightfully explores how, even though we think reading and writing are part of one seamless whole, they actually involve very different neurological processes. But my favorite part of the article describes Howard’s rehabilitation, which involved keeping a journal of his life in the rehab hospital:

Occasionally, with unusual words or proper names, Howard might be unsure of their spelling—he could not “see” them in his mind’s eye, imagine them, any more than he could perceive them when they were printed before him. Lacking this internal imagery, he had to employ other strategies for spelling. The simplest of these, he found, was to write a word in the air with his finger, letting a motor act take the place of a sensory one.

Increasingly and often unconsciously, Howard started to move his hands as he read, tracing the outlines of words and sentences still unintelligible to his eyes. And most remarkable, his tongue, too, began to move as he read, tracing the shapes of letters on his teeth or on the roof of his mouth. This enabled him to read considerably faster… Thus, by an extraordinary metamodal, sensory-motor alchemy, Howard was replacing reading by a sort of writing. He was, in effect, reading with his tongue.

First, Howard’s determination to regain his ability to read, even through seemingly strange methods, is totally inspiring. But his experience also made me wonder if multi-sensory learning is hardwired into our humanity.

We’re socialized to learn primarily by sitting, listening, reading, and writing with a pen or pencil. Other ways of learning—through song, dance, movement, or writing words in the air with your finger, are frequently regarded as kids’ stuff.

Sure, it’s fine to rap about the multiplication tables, but rapping or singing to remember material isn’t encouraged in during medical or law school! Adults are supposed to learn quietly, politely—invisibly.

Or multi-sensory learning methods are viewed as a back-up plan—something to try when nothing else works, even though active, multi-sensory learning seems to work a lot better than the passive kind.

The relative ease with which Howard, in his late 60s or early 70s, found multi-sensory ways to read again—by tracing words in the air with his finger or moving his tongue as he read—suggests that the instinct to use all of our senses to learn is somehow essential to who we are as human beings.

Three months ago, I acted out what the different parts of the brain cell do with one of my students to help her remember. I still remember the roles of the dendrites, axon, and synapses. If it had been written on a flash card, I probably wouldn’t remember any of it.

What if multisensory learning is actually plan A, and it’s just been socialized out of us?

Image by Lev Yilmaz for NPR.

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Posts Tagged as "multisensory"

Case Study: A 5th grader emerges as a successful student and enthusiastic mathematician

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

When this student first came to me, her dad was concerned that she had lost interest in learning math. During the school year, it also emerged that the student was in danger of not passing fifth grade.

Here’s what worked for this student:

Supporting the student’s own efforts to be proactive
During one of our first math tutoring sessions, I pointed out to this student that numbers that end in zero are even. Somehow she hadn’t learned that before. To help herself remember this new fact, she spontaneously made up new lyrics to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” They went like this: “Even! Even! Numbers with a zero are even!”

The next time we met, I added to her original lyrics: “Even! Even! Numbers that end in zero are even! So are the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8. They are all even, and they’re all great! They’re even!”

She would sing the zero song whenever this topic came up. Not only did my student create a great way to remember this fact (and inspire me too), but singing also allowed her express her enthusiasm for math and let off a little steam.

Another time, she suggested we create a “Mistakes Log Blog” to help her analyze what mistakes she had made on a test that we were reviewing. I ran with this idea. When she wrote down where she’d made mistakes, the patterns became much clearer to her. In later sessions, she’d refer back to the “Mistakes Log Blog” when analyzing errors.

“Field trips”
In order to make concepts more concrete, we’d take field trips—to my living room, where we’d practice perimeter and area by measuring my rug, or to the kitchen, where we’d measure a round plate to show where the number pi comes from.

At my kitchen sink, we poured water between different containers to show the relationships between units of measurement. And we acted out word problems using food from my refrigerator. Field trips were way more engaging to her than sitting with a worksheet, so I tried to maximize this.

Multi-sensory learning
From taking all those field trips during math tutoring, I noticed my student benefited from hands-on learning. So we also used fraction overlays and math blocks from Math U See to build fractions and do “fraction of a number” problems. Using the manipulatives made abstract concepts concrete for my student, and really helped her “get” the material. Plus it was fun!

When I realized my student didn’t know her 9s times table yet, I taught her the Rockin’ the Standards song for the 9s, to the tune of the hokey pokey, so she would remember them forever. I also taught her the Place Value Rap to remember key facts about place value. Not only were these songs a great chance to stand up and play air guitar, but they were also an excellent way to internalize crucial material and build on the success of the Zero Song.

Managing focus
During the year, we met twice a week for either 60 or 90 minutes. If I noticed my student was losing focus, we’d take a break to jump up and down to rejuvenate ourselves. After a while, my student would ask to jump when she was having trouble concentrating. It might sound silly, but I was proud that my student was starting to pay attention to whether or not she was paying attention and that she knew how to refocus herself. (Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for inspiring me to try this!)

When I realized my student was in danger of not passing fifth grade, I decided to use Carol Dweck’s Brainology curriculum, one of the most powerful motivational tools I know of to address one of the underlying cause of low achievement: low motivation. For several weeks, we would spend part of each tutoring session doing Brainology, which uses basic neuroscience to teach students that their brains are plastic and they can grow their intelligence.

My student enthusiastically embraced the Brainology program. She talked about the characters like they were her personal friends, and she responded to questions like “what is happening in your brain when you think?” with answers like, “Neurons are sending messages within a trillion connections.” She also used Brainology concepts like getting enough sleep and eating “brain food” while she was taking her end-of-year standardized tests (the CRCT).

The results

Three or four weeks after we began working together, her teachers reported a positive change in this student’s attitude. She started sitting in front, participating, and speaking up when she didn’t understand.

After about sixth or seven months of meeting twice a week, this student mastered the material, pulled up her grades, and successfully passed fifth grade. Her final math test score was so high that she was only either 10 points or 10 questions away from placing into the advanced math class in sixth grade. I am so proud of her!

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